A book I’d overlooked

Walking around the library I have to deliberately ignore the shelves sometimes, shutting out the siren song of all those stories crying out to be read. Some I’ve always meant to read, but many more are perfect strangers to me: little worlds languishing on the lower shelves, waiting to be opened.

One especially beguiling title I just couldn’t ignore was a reprint of Walter de la Mare’s curious 1921 novel Memoirs of a Midget. I mean, once you’ve seen it, how are you not going to pick that up? The otherwise nameless Miss M’s bucolic childhood ends when her parents die, forcing her to make her way into an unfamiliar world that is inclined to view her as a curiosity, given that she is somewhere around two feet tall.  Her passions and disillusionments are familiar to anyone who has lived and loved, but something about her abiding otherness and her odd aperture on life – together with the author’s charmed, poetic diction – result in a book with its own uniquely strange, sad beauty. With its somewhat antiquated tone and leisurely opening, this is not that easy a book to get into, but once in, it is equally hard to leave this spellbinding world without having been somehow changed along the way.

It reminds me a little of another truly wonderful and poignant book about a little person (now sadly out of print and available only through interlibrary loan or for purchase): The Dork of Cork by Chet Raymo. Which then started me wondering about two other intriguing novels with little people: Simon Mawer’s thoughtful, heartbreaking Mendel’s Dwarf and Ursula Hegi’s moving Stones from the River. I wonder if these authors had also fallen in their turn under the spell of de la Mare’s lost classic, found in the stacks of some library. (And whether that is why these books also feature librarians?)

You see how dangerous it can be, walking through the stacks at the library.

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